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Warriors’ bench goes above, beyond in fourth-quarter rally vs. Mavericks

Warriors’ bench goes above and beyond in late rally vs. Mavs originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

DALLAS – Once the fourth quarter began Tuesday night at American Airlines Center in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, Steve Kerr could see the writing on the wall. It was time to save his stars and get the bench some time for the final 12 minutes.

Little did he or anybody else know what a show the Warriors’ reserves and youngsters would put on before falling short, 109-100, after entering the final period down by 29 points.

The Warriors trailed by 15 points going into halftime and a 16-minute rain delay at halftime thanks to two leaks in Dallas’ roof during a thunderstorm didn’t change a thing. The Mavs kept making it rain inside and outside the arena, opening the third quarter on a 10-3 run. Golden State was outscored by 14 points in the third quarter, prompting Kerr to start the fourth with a lineup of Jordan Poole, Damion Lee, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga and Nemanja Bjelica.

That’s two 19-year-olds, a 22-year-old and two veterans whose time this postseason has been diminished. They didn’t play like a group that was ready to get on with a blowout before boarding a flight in the morning and heading home for Game 5. Those five wanted to not only prove themselves but continue to hush a crowd that went quieter by the minute in their pursuit of sweeping the Mavs.

Though the final score was a Warriors loss, this was nothing short of a win for the second unit. The only question was why Kerr decided to turn back to Steph Curry, and soon thereafter, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins, with three-plus minutes remaining after the reserves cut the deficit to only eight points following a 3-pointer corner from Kuminga.

“With about five minutes left, we cut it to 14 or so,” Kerr told reporters. “I looked at the other coaches, I looked at Steph and we just decided if it gets manageable and possible, then let’s do it. It felt like we had a shot with three-and-a-half minutes left when we put Steph and Klay and Wiggs in. I also felt like the group that had played that great run in the fourth quarter maybe was getting a little tired there, so just made the decision to see if we could pull off a miracle.

“It wasn’t meant to be. Dallas was great tonight, they deserved to win. They executed, they played with more force and this is the conference finals. This is how it’s supposed to be. Two great teams, and they handled us. well tonight. “

There’s two sides to that story.

One could argue that the bench mob deserved to finish their fight. It’s not like the starters were showing out anyways. They finished a combined minus-103 in plus-minus. The bench was a combined plus-53.

At the same time, this was the Warriors’ chance to end the Mavs and enjoy a long break before the NBA Finals begin June 2. Are you really going to keep Curry, Thompson and Wiggins on the bench as spectators? Either way, the bench did more than anyone could have imagined. They accounted for 32 of the Warriors’ 39 fourth-quarter points.

The ball moved much better in that fourth quarter, something that Lee partly attributes to that group scrimmaging on days off and always finding was to get game-like action in when they’re out of the rotation, whether it be 3-on-3 or 5-on-5. The Warriors had only 16 assists through the first three quarters and 10 in the last frame alone. They doubled the Mavs in rebounds, stole the ball three times and Moody was deflecting passes left and right.

“Our job was to get out there, keep playing the game and try to fight back and that’s what I did,” Moody said. “Get it close enough and in striking distance.”

Check. That part of the job was complete. An even bigger one was accomplished that goes unaccounted for in the box score.

Luka Dončić and the rest of the Mavs’ main players should have been able to sit back and rest in the fourth quarter. That wasn’t the case. With the Mavs ’lead cut to 18 points, Dallas coach Jason Kidd didn’t take any chances. He put Dončić back in at the 7:23 mark, and the star guard never came out again.

Due in large part to the Warriors’ backups, Dončić had to play nearly 38 minutes. Jalen Brunson finished with 34 minutes, Dorian Finney-Smith played 39 and Reggie Bullock logged 38. That’s far from ideal after what looked to be a blowout on the Mavs’ home court.

“Even though we didn’t come out with the win, those guys had to play for the rest of the game,” Moody said. “They didn’t get to take a break. They didn’t take any time off. We got to go back to San Francisco and play them again, and they didn’t get a break in the second half.

“They had to play all 40 minutes.”

Poole, 22, struggled with his shot and found himself in foul trouble early on – eventually fouling out. But he scored six points and had four assists in the fourth quarter. That time really belonged to the Warriors’ two rookie teenagers in Kuminga and Moody.

Kuminga, 19, led all fourth-quarter scorers with 10 points. With Otto Porter Jr. out to left foot soreness, Kuminga was given the veteran’s rotation spot after not playing a single second the previous two games. He wound up playing 22 minutes off the bench, where he scored 19 points along with nine rebounds, finishing as a plus-9.

Moody, 19, also earned his way into the rotation and started the second quarter again. As Gary Payton II and Andre Iguodala continue to nurse injuries, he has become even more important on both sides of the ball, especially defense. In 10 fourth-quarter minutes, Moody scored eight points, hit both of his 3-point attempts, grabbed two rebounds and came away with two steals. He ended up playing 23 minutes, scored 10 points and was a plus-4.

Those two lottery picks from last year now trail only Kobe Bryant in minutes played by a 19-year-old in a conference finals series.

For a team still led by grizzled veterans in Curry, Thompson and Green, it’s beyond encouraging to see what two young pups are doing this deep into the playoffs.

“It was great because they had an opportunity to go out there and make their presence felt, impact the game, build some confidence and some experience in this series and what it feels like to be out there,” Curry said. “So with Otto being out, GP being out, there’s minutes available, and for us to close this series out, Game 5, I’m sure they’re going to be out there playing some minutes.

“Carry that confidence back home with us and hopefully perform the same way.”

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The Warriors didn’t get the job done Tuesday night in their Game 4 loss. But the bench, led by the franchise’s future, went above and beyond pushing the Mavs to their limit.

That will have ramifications. It should be felt two nights from now, as well as down the road this postseason and possibly further beyond for years to come.

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